Morten Hilmer is a nature photographer and explorer. This is his story about his two-month-long expedition to Ellesmere Island.
From the small window in the twin otter airplane, I could see the desolated land underneath. Only ice and mountains, black and white, nothing else. A frozen world with no sign of life. This is Ellesmere Island and it is here I am going to spend the next two months chasing my dream. - the dream about getting a glimpse and maybe even photograph the white Arctic wolf.
It started as a dream
The idea about going on an expedition to Ellesmere Island was born a late evening where my good friend Andera Bilgram and I were looking at maps, talking about adventures and having a snaps. The next day I wrote him that I was going to Ellesmere Island to photograph the white Arctic wolf and the following day he asked if we should go together, because he had some historical interest in that area. That was basically how it all started. We had a year and a half to plan and prepare the expedition and there was a lot to do. Everything from permissions and researching to physical training, selection and testing of gear and equipment. We would be 5 weeks in the wild without any options for supplies so we could not afford anything to fail out there. Most of our clothes was from Klättermusen simply because I have a lot of great experience with the models I have used on previous trips and expeditions.
We arrived to Grise Fiord late in March and the temperatures were not as bad as we expected. After a week of preparations we took off and headed north on snowmobiles together with 3 local outfitters. The original plan was to get dropped off on the south point of Axel Heiberg Island and then walk home from there - these plans changed a lot. We quickly discovered that this land seamed almost desolated. I had expected a lot of reindeer, hares, foxes, and muskoxen but after driving for 3 days we had seen nothing. This was not a very good beginning at all.
The plan changed
We decided to cover a huge area on snow mobiles rather than a very limited area with skies and pulk. We had to find the muskoxen or the reindeer because this would be where the wolves would also be. We talked to the local hunters who suggested to make a combination of driving, staying in a hunter’s cabin and going on skies so that was what we did. During the 5 weeks we drew almost 1500 kilometers on snowmobiles. Did around 200 kilometers on skies and stayed more than two weeks in two different small cabins. But the number of animals we saw could be counted on two hands - this was extremely frustrating.
Frostbites, frustrations, and polar bears
The temperatures up here were much colder than in Grise fiord and one night we had minus 42 Celsius. Wrapped in down clothes it was not a huge problem as long as we kept moving. For the camera equipment is was a huge challenge though since it simply stopped working. The face was another problem and we all got a few frost bites - me on my nose. Besides the cold temperatures, we also had to deal with other challenges such as polar bears entering the camp. One evening when we were having dinner in the tent, we suddenly heard something outside - very very close to the tent. I jumped out without my shoes and a young polar bear was trying to drag out supplies away. I quickly scared him away with the flare gun, but we all slept a bit light after that experience.
Did my dream come true?
If my dream came true or not I can not tell. I will reveal this on my YouTube channel this autumn but one thing is for sure. Even though I have never seen fewer animals in an area in my entire life it was a great adventure and a successful expedition because for me the most important criteria for such a trip are the fact at we came home safe, that we got some great experiences and that we had a really good friendship on the trip. This was my first trip to Arctic Canada - but definitely not the last.
- Morten Hilmer, 2019
Photos by Morten Hilmer